Climate, malnutrition must have a place in trade talks

5 February 2020

Global trade talks are silent on three of the world's most pressing issues -- malnutrition, obesity and climate change - researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) say.

According to their research, trade agreements are currently constraining nations' ability to address these issues.

Lead researcher Professor Sharon Friel from the School of Regulation and Global Governance says there's a mismatch between the goals of major trade agreements, and policy recommendations related to food systems, good nutrition and climate change.

"The big question is how we can change this," Professor Friel said.

"We need to make sure health and climate interests are represented in discussions about trade and investment.

"How you talk about it is really important - it's not enough to just say 'we've got to include nutrition in trade agreements', that doesn't cut it.

"We need to bring climate change, nutrition and trade together, and at the global level while there's a political appetite for it.

"Australia is in a position to be quite influential in these discussions."

Professor Friel says it could be as simple as health experts staying in the same hotel as trade negotiators during the negotiating rounds of new trade deals, allowing for informal conversations to take place.

"It might sound flippant but it's an important way of sharing ideas," she said.

"Traditionally it's been big business representatives who've had the ear of the trade negotiators.

 Professor Friel and her fellow researchers say if we change the way we look at trade, we could see much less environmental damage, and better health outcomes.

"If we're going to think seriously about climate change mitigation, we've got to think about some of these big policy areas like trade and investment," Professor Friel said.

"The co-benefits could be very positive."

The research has just been published in the first edition of the journal Nature Food.